And you thought the women’s competition was a Tour de Force by the Russians.
Led by reigning European champ David Belyavskiy, double Olympic medalist Denis Ablyazin and newly nationalized citizen Nikolai Kuksenkov, the Russian men romped the competition to win the team gold medal on the second day of competition at the 2013 Universiade, giving the host nation both team titles.
The dominance of the Russians, which have sent their A-teams to Kazan, isn’t wholly surprising given the overall international level at this meet, but it doesn’t make their overall performance any less impressive. As a dry run for the World Championships in Antwerp, it basically couldn’t have gone better for a team hungry for redemption after finishing a disappointing sixth as a team last summer in London. Russia hit and hit and hit, tallying 273.15 points to win the gold over Ukraine, which scored 269.95 points.
But the meet was also a success for Ukraine. The Ukrainian men, like the Russians, sent brought their A-game in the form of European bronze medalist Oleg Verniaiev, European p-bars champion Oleg Stepko and Euro rings gold medalist Igor Radivilov. While they didn’t quite measure up to the Russians, especially on Russian territory, the Ukrainian men signalled that they will be a force to contend with in Antwerp this fall.
Without reigning World and Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura, defending Universiades champion Japan settled for bronze with 269.7 points. While their overall level was not as high as that of Russia or Ukraine, the younger members of the Japanese team showed that they have the near flawless execution that Uchimura if famous for, and an incredible twisting ability. Ryohei Kato, the son of a Japanese coach and a young member of the silver medal-winning team in London, is a name to watch for, finishing second to Verniaiev in the all-around qualification, 90.5-90.25.
Individually, Belyavskiy, Stepko and Verniaiev, three of the Big Four in men’s gymnastics right now, occupied three of the top five indvidual slots in all-around qualification. After a big break on high bar, his weakest event, Belyavskiy ended the day in fourth place (89.75), but a solid six-hit set like he showed during men’s all-around finals in Moscow two months ago should have him in contention for the Universiades title.
What will be interesting to see is if Verniaiev hits as well — he didn’t in Moscow, and finished third — who will take home the prize. The tiny, passionate Stepko, who all but jumped up and down after nailing his pommel horse routine in the final rotation, ranked third all-around with 90.05 points.
The individual event qualifiers were a mix of all-around might and specalists. While Verniaiev notched the top scores on pommel horse (15.65) and parallel bars (15.9), Russia’s Denis Ablyazin was the top qualifier on floor (15.65). Olympic event champions Arthur Zanetti (rings) of Brazil and Yang Hak Seon of South Korea (vault) were the best on their respective events, scoring 15.9 and 15.525, respectively, on their specialties to advance.
On high bar, Germany’s Fabian Hambuechen topped the standings, edging reigning European champion Emin Garibov of Russia, 15.5-15.3.
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